Considering Your Audience as a Musician | Coursera Community

Considering Your Audience as a Musician

  • 12 October 2020
  • 28 replies

  • Music Forum Leader
  • 2195 replies

As a music teacher. I would often expose my students to new music, which meant the audiences were exposed to it as well.
One year, I had a themed concert of world music. Students played music from all different cultures of the world. It was challenging to learn but the concert was excellent and the students felt proud of their results. 
The problem was, the audience didn’t appreciate it. Our feedback was awful! People wanted familiar music. They didn’t want to listen to unfamiliar music. My students felt deflated too. The next concert I did the opposite and we performed all familiar and popular music. Everyone loved it !

This made me wonder about audiences. Shouldn’t we as musicians be exposing an audience to new music as well as the familiar? Or should we be most considerate of audiences and play what they expect? What do you think?


28 replies

Userlevel 6
Badge +12

"I guess you guys aren't ready for that, yet. But your kids are gonna love it." (Martin McFly)

First of all, that may largely depend on how we advertise and event. 

In your context, I guess parents expect an interpretation of oldy-goldies, rather than congolese funeral classics : They want to evaluate the gap between their children's performance with the original song. Instead,  you take away their role of judges! 

Known songs join people, because that's just the way they got famous; nevertheless, if you played very catchy rhythms, and if it's possible roughly to identify the source, the wrongfoot effect would not manifest as such. 



@ATP it’s an interesting think that by playing something unfamiliar, you take away that judgement.

One time, in competition, my students played an arrangement of Beethoven’s 5th. They played it well but the critic kept comparing it to the original, ex: our dynamics weren’t as dramatic! Our scores were mediocre. Ever since then, I chose music no one ever heard of for competition. There was nothing a critic could compare it to. The performance of the music was all that was considered. We received perfect scores  as a result.

Love the Back  to Future  quote.

Userlevel 6
Badge +12

Generally speaking, Entrepreneurship is not "making business" but being bold at getting responsible of our choices just because we have faith in what we enjoy. Emancipation and entrepreneurship are therefore synonims. 

Artists are hence the most famous example of what it could mean being "too forward in times" or being exploitated until depersonalization, because of the business of enjoying the largest swate of audience, think Basquiat or K-pop stars. 

It's the concept expressed in the quote of Schiller, in the Klimt's painting "Nuda Veritas", and which I personally dedicate to H.R. Giger: Don’t Try to Please Everyone, Make Justice to Few 

Our music teacher once told, a woman protested at the première of Ravel's Bolero. I don't really know your school system (nor the specific environment) because sometimes teacher are not the free they would like to be, so that's why I think your students are very lucky at experimenting even frustration.

Userlevel 1
Badge +1

As a music teacher. I would often expose my students to new music, which meant the audiences were exposed to it as well.
One year, I had a themed concert of world music. Students played music from all different cultures of the world. It was challenging to learn but the concert was excellent and the students felt proud of their results. 
The problem was, the audience didn’t appreciate it. Our feedback was awful! People wanted familiar music. They didn’t want to listen to unfamiliar music. My students felt deflated too. The next concert I did the opposite and we performed all familiar and popular music. Everyone loved it !

This made me wonder about audiences. Shouldn’t we as musicians be exposing an audience to new music as well as the familiar? Or should we be most considerate of audiences and play what they expect? What do you think?


Hello there. I hope you’re doing absolutely fine.

Alright so, it’s both options for me. You should be considerate too but then, the audience  too, should be considerate enough and appreciate a good composition.

It’s all about the balance, I suppose. 

Userlevel 6
Badge +12

 @AnksJM05 Do you mean making compromises? I too seem I have expressed this idea.  

There is clever people who sing traditional songs around the world, giving picturesque besides cliché (stereotypate) suggestions of their country. I personally find it horrible, but it’s a large business indeed. Maybe this is the extreme opposite of niche underground music.

So should we all consider an aurea mediocritas (golden way middle) in presenting ourselves? because if not, marching brass bands would simply don’t exist, as they almost only play covers.

It’s something similar to writing a Resume. There is people who make it artistic, but this way, the possible target field is narrow. It’s a personal choice, and sometimes there’s no choice at all.

All and all, I think music auditory is just two states: Enthusiast or Ferocious :smile:

@AnksJM05 , that’s what I basically did in the end. But I had been very upset at the time that all our hard work wasn’t appreciated.

My son majored in music composition in college and we would attend the concerts where the student composers presented their works. I always found it fun to hear new music and musical thoughts, but many in the audience shook their heads at some of the very offbeat compositions.

Are we mostly afraid of the new and unfamiliar ?

@ATP ! As always, you give us much to think about. Is music a business or an art or? It can be all things, which is what makes it such an exciting field.There should be room for mediocrity and even what I would consider bad music...Bad music to me is wonderful to others.

Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in or just to enjoy all kinds of music. It’s very difficult for me not to sit in judgment sometimes when I hear something I don’t like. What I love about music is there is truly something for everyone ,on all different levels, for all different ages. You can see this when you read through these forums, the incredible diversity. We do need to be open to listening to and experiencing new music, but that doesn’t mean we have to like it all.

Userlevel 6
Badge +12

Are we mostly afraid of the new and unfamiliar ?

Because it implies making a new image of ourselves, and adults don’t really enjoy this pain. 

(did you really need to close this thread?)   

Userlevel 6
Badge +12

@Judith  I must have seen videos about famous musicians who hit the road incognito mode to test people’s reactions: only children stop and listen. The same people would pay to see their concerts? 

In any case, street musicians gain such a lot of offers! are they magneticians?  


Userlevel 3
Badge +2

@Judith thanks for the discussion, it is fascinating.
To what has been said above, I could add that it may be nice to provide the audience with more information. Just facing something absolutely unfamiliar may be challenging and frustrating. But if it was preceded by some materials on why it is interesting, what to pay attention to, how it works, then maybe the reception would be more welcoming.
I realize that:
- it's easier said than done;
- it requires extra effort and time;
- this educational part may also require some promotion.
But I think that this could be a possible way to lower this hostility to something new and therefore give this new thing a better chance to be perceived.

@ansakoy these are all excellent suggestions. People often go to a concert with the expectation they will hear something they are familiar with and enjoy. If they knew they would hear something unfamiliar, they may not attend.

In my case, the audience was expecting to be entertained, to sing along, clap along, tap feet and feel uplifted by familiar music. Some sort of promotion campaign would’ve been a really good idea. Excerpts of the music could have been introduced and discussed ahead of time. In the educational setting where this happened, we could have gone into classrooms and introduced the music before hand. Honestly, I never thought about that. I just assumed that since it was interesting music, people would enjoy it and embrace it too. I was expecting everyone to be impressed and feel as though they learned and experienced something they hadn’t  before. 

Classical music can be like this. For many, going to a classical music concert is boring. However, if they know the music ahead of time, it makes it more enjoyable. 

Userlevel 6
Badge +12

@Judith The only way to have more WHEN than IF’s, is to make some... data analysis, and verify

  • % how many people come, when having been (or been not) warned about the content 
  • in case they didn’t know, did they enjoy and what music did they expect to listen

Experiments you know… mild down the frustration of expectation and have a sweet sadistic taste..



@Judith treat it as a language I guess, we should always consider the audience or the reciever. They won’t be attending without expectation anyway. If the audience’s feedback matters, might as well their expectations are. So it’s either we meet their expectations or we pursue our goal (exposing to music) or if we can do both.

@ATP , data  analysis Is an excellent suggestion. I perform in various groups. After concerts we often ask people to fill out surveys.We use that data to help us get grants and prove we are successful...but it’s often challenging to collect. As an audience member, when I am given a survey after a concert, I usually don’t respond. But it would be interesting to collect such data.

@gymburn , interesting comments you made. I wish we could change their expectations so they could attend a concert with an open mind….but I don’t know if I attend a concert open minded. I definitely have expectations when I attend a concert. Don’t you?

Userlevel 6
Badge +12

@Judith Maybe if giving a feedback is easier (Yes No Maybe) you obtain more answers. Or having a narrow set of volunteers to have a wrist of the global feeling. You need it.

By the way, do you have some performance recording to share ?  

Userlevel 3
Badge +2

@Judith yes, it is exactly like that with classical music, especially by composers whose typical intonations are not yet familiar enough to the public to be caught on the flight. Actually, I’ve been thinking about introducing new and fairly sophisticated pieces by my dad to some audience. And this is the least hopeless idea I’ve come up with so far. Haven’t tested it in practice yet though. But looks like this audience resistance is a fairly common issue.

And yes, I totally join @ATP’s question about the availability of some performance recordings.


@ATP hello fellow data analyst :) Yes, I agree that collecting and analyzing data could be really revealing, but like @Judith mentioned, the main challenge here is to get people to answer the survey and what’s even more challenging to answer sincerely. If by any chance I was somehow forced to participate in such a survey, I think I’d just politely say that everything was nice and most enjoyable. In fact, if one could afford to conduct a research, which would be most interesting, I’d say it should be a qualitative research with focus groups discussing their expectations, attitudes, backgrounds and habits.

@ATP , you gave me a good start a thread where musicians can post their performances. I will do that soon. It deserves its own thread and would encourage others to post too. And feedback is always welcomed, even if critical.

@ansakoy , I am trying to remember, but didn’t you post some of your dad’s music earlier in this forum? It was digital but so excellent if it’s what I am thinking of. Perhaps you can use all of us here to react to it. How to promote it would be challenging because it’s so unique. 


Userlevel 6
Badge +12

feedback is always welcomed, even if critical.

Do I really have to be sincere? when I’m about to feedback (I mostly deal with figurative art) I find myself in two main situations

  • pointing out the worst to people who is already fine or seem to work hard 
  • enthusiastic comments on talented amateurs

In both cases comments are public, but in case of aspiring professionals, I also doubt whether would my comment have a negative impact on a hypothetical client reading and therefore noticing that flaw, nor I cannot be at the same time the one who makes a criticism and the one who say “you’d better show you’re fine with that criticism”.  

@ATP , You’re probably right about feedback. A few weeks ago, someone asked us (in this forum) to listen and comment on what they wrote. I took that seriously and posted something critical.No one else did. I wondered if I shouldn’t  have said anything negative. Sometimes when people ask you if you like something they really expect you to affirm that it’s wonderful and not be critical. I am extremely critical of what I do always trying to be better and not resting till I feel it is the best I can do at the time. So, if I think I am so good and someone doesn’t agree, that could sting...or I would refute what the person said.

And yet, feedback is the way to grow and improve and get that much needed reality check. If I am serious about improvement or about what the results of a concert might be, it needs to be accepted. I think it is important so I try to be open to it even if it’s painful. 

Giving honest feedback is such a dilemma. Having been a mentor for years, I graded many assignments. When an assignment is particularly awful, people won’t grade it. People don’t like to give negative feedback. Having been a teacher and entered competitions with students, feedback was the best way to become better, no matter how difficult to hear. Do you give honest feedback?

Userlevel 3
Badge +2

@Judith yep, actually I embedded a short fragment in my introduction post. In fact, I’m really going to try to use this forum, not so much for promotion, but rather as a testing platform for the approach I suggested. I’ll publish a rather tricky piece accompanied by some comments and examples in order to establish whether it helps to make sense of the piece. But this requires some preparatory work :)


@ATP as to feedback, if I care to leave any, I’m always sincere, but mainly positive (if I have nothing positive to say, I just won’t say anything most likely). In a general case I think criticism should be either required explicitly or discussed privately (like via private messages).

Userlevel 6
Badge +12

@Judith @ansakoy Keeping it simple. Yes, criticisms always hurt our pride -- it’s rather impossible to be so effort-oriented (instead than result-oriented) to see one’s own work made dust and be happy of starting again. I someway think to the physical training in Rapa-Nui the movie, got it? In wild nature, a “negative feedback” is a broken head or death. Among us, that may be a lost year of school, but all that I know is that the very first one who is able to judge the quality of a job, is ourselves. Are you able to dive in hard work? do you enjoy your job? are you aware that you are part of a society that needs to improve the level of complexity?

So negative feedbacks, provided they are sincere and polite (and don’t result from a mind-trapping situation) are as good as positive ones. A proverb says: Never too sour (so as to be spit off) nor too sweet (they won’t suck you) 


@ansakoy , I thought that was you but couldn’t remember which thread it came from. I was so impressed with it!

It’s an excellent idea to use this forum to test it  out. My suggestion is to go through the introductions  and select people who you would like to personally tag so they can listen to this music. Many people don’t subscribe to threads and won’t realize that you’re posting this. If you specifically tag them they will . It  also feels special to be tagged by someone and to know that your opinion is important.

@ATP you have such interesting, thought-provoking comments and bring such an extensive background knowledge to us here.

”Negative  feedback being as good as positive feedback” is a good one, but I think if you can be open to it and objective ( is that possible?) it can be more useful. Although we crave positive feedback to move forward, it doesn’t change us or make us better the way good constructive feedback can.

Userlevel 6
Badge +12

@Judith  You mean, giving neutral feedbacks. 

So I say, the sky is dark, it's going to rain, while you wanted to go to beach: You will perhaps project on me your disappointment. 

We learned that survival is a matter of social relations, so feedbacks are food to us. Actually children make things expecting for you to judge them, 'cause they want to know if they're doing good; But as long as they get skilled, they take their own way, and their ability to manage Negative feedbacks increases along with their own self confidence. 

What it happens, instead: that we adults pretend our rules to be the only good ones, so we force children to always need our feedbacks, impose a massified culture, put their toys in the attic for never to them develop their own peculiarities, which results in baby adults, always in the need of an external opinion.   

And by the way, are emotions something that pollutes feedbacks? I think that emotions are the most of a feedback since they deal with our personal sensitivity. Emotions and body language tell us more that words, and if they don't match, we don't trust someone. 

Hate and Enthusiasm are the basic components of a feedback. Politeness is always welcomed, but you know, if people go burning the streets, maybe we should ask why.

@ATP our country has often been criticized for praising our children too much, making them think they are wonderful without instilling the importance of criticism. A close friend who is an English teacher received an unsatisfactory rating from the Administration because she didn’t give many “ A’”s to her students. Another teacher gave his students all A’s and B’s and was given an excellent rating. Parents want to get excellent feedback. They often blame the teacher when their children don’t do well.

I wish we could learn to accept criticism better. I just made a virtual recording and sent it to the sound engineer, who is a friend. He said I sounded good, but, he didn’t like the way I played certain grace notes, thinking I played them too much like swing. Rather than accept this criticism, my first instinct is to disagree. Why is this so difficult to do?